Demerris speaking in her office with a student

The Lion’s Storyteller: University Ombudsman Demerris Brooks

Demerris speaking in her office with a student

“Black History Month is a time to really reflect on the progress and sacrifices of people who came before me and to remember all the things that people have done so that I can be where I am,” said University Ombudsman Demerris Brooks (Dillon Adams photo).

(Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month, we profiled five campus leaders. Here’s the third in the series.)

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Empowering those who are struggling to be heard has always played an important role in Demerris Brooks’ life.

Born and raised in San Jose, Brooks attended Notre Dame High School and earned a bachelor’s in English from UC Berkeley, a master’s in education from Stanford University, and a master’s in education administration from Santa Clara University.

She was a school teacher and administrator for 13 years before coming to SJSU.

“I was actually recruited into administration from the classroom by a principal who said, ‘You are really good at what you do, but the policy pieces and the making the hard decisions isn’t something that everyone can do,’” Brooks recalled.

Brooks, who has also served as an administrative project specialist and Disability Resource Center interim director, leverages her strengths in her current role. As university ombudsman, she ensures university policies are applied fairly and consistently.

The Lion’s Storyteller

This work gives her the opportunity to engage with students who feel they are at the end of their rope.

“I enjoy giving them space where they have one-on-one contact with someone who is going to set aside some time, listen to them, and then talk about what their rights are as a student,” Brooks said.

The value she places in getting both sides of the story is reflected in her favorite quote, which is from an African proverb: “Until the lion has a storyteller, the hunter will always be the hero.”

“It’s a constant reminder to me of the individuals and populations who struggle to have their voices heard,” she said. “People like MLK, Gandhi, Chavez and Huerta understood the significance of power and privilege and took a stand on behalf of ‘the lion.'”

An Amazing Place

Brooks also appreciates the opportunity to hear firsthand the struggles and sacrifices that her grandparents endured, and knows that without their efforts, she wouldn’t have been able to go to college and work in a professional field.

Because of this, Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, holds a special place in her heart. The small town south of Cleveland was home to her father’s family, and campus buildings served as secret exits for the Underground Railroad.

“Oberlin was the first university in the country to regularly admit both female and black students,” Brooks said. “Just to have that historical connection with our family — it’s a pretty amazing place.”

Brooks tries hard to share the importance of Black history with her son and would like to see more of an integrated approach to the curriculum.

“This is our history and these are all of the people who contributed significantly,” she said. “Let’s not teach it as a one-off but as a part-of.”